Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Photo from Winton Scott Architects

When I grow up I’d like to be Miss Rumphius, from Barbara Cooney’s picture book, a strong Maine woman searching for a way to make the world a more beautiful place.  She wonders how she can possibly improve the scene she sees from her cottage perched on a Maine coast bluff.   

Her solution is to spread Lupine seeds everywhere she goes and watch with delight, year after year as the ocean breezes spread their seeds far and wide.  Miss Rumphius’s author and illustrator, Barbara Cooney, has spread her own version of beauty and joy in Damariscotta, Maine.

I gazed at Cooney’s Caldecott Medals and the letter from the Governor of Maine declaring December 12th “Barabara Cooney Day” and considered that without Cooney gift of $550,000 (with an additional $300,000 to follow) the library I was standing in may never have been built.  Cooney began the $3 million fundraising drive needed to build the new library with the condition that the building remain downtown and accessible to all.

The soaring two story ceiling and giant window fill the space with a light that you would never imagine from the small brick exterior.  The center room opens to a natural wood panelled ceiling and a mezzanine with book stacks.  The children’s and teen room are tucked away in the back where the respective patrons can build towers and read magazines.

When I heard the name Skidompha Public Library I was a little confused.   I imagined a Native American tribe hunting and fishing on the banks of the Damariscotta River, Damariscotta is a derivation of an Algonquin word that roughly translates as “meeting place of many fish.”
But Skidompha has nothing to do with Native Americans.  It is an acronym made from the names of the the social literary club that began the library in 1880.    

Their first venture was to raise money for a new pipe organ at the Damariscotta Methodist church, and after the organ was installed, they collected and discussed books.  After performing “The Mikado” as a successful fundraiser, the cast members put their names together (the full list is on the website) and created Skidompha.

Skidompha incorporated in 1905 and a Free Public Library was created above the Charles M. Jones Grocery Store on Main Street.  There were 6,000 volumes above the store in 1922 and the library needed space.  They merged with the Damariscotta-Newcastle Women’s Club and bought a property on Dixon Street.  The library lived on the first floor and the social club was on the second.
Fifty years later the library had again outgrown its space and the the old building was not up to the challenge of meeting the needs of a modern library.

Barbara Cooney inspired the community with her generous donation to begin the fundraising campaign that eventually grew to $3 million.  The doors of the new library opened in 2001, the year after Barbara Cooney died at age 82.  

In 2008 Skidompha Public Library was awarded the nation's highest library honor, The National Medal for Libraries and Museums, by First Lady Laura Bush at the White House.  I hope that Barbara knows that her books, artwork, passion and generosity not only made the world a more beautiful place but sowed the seeds of beauty for the next generation.

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